The most common question involved in the assessment of young children is whether the child is developing normally. “Is this child showing the signs of development one might normally expect at this age?” This question of normal development is a worrying one for many parents. However, this area is a potential minefield as a child may be developmentally slow in some areas but advanced in others, alternatively a child may slow down in development and then catch up very quickly subsequently. Another problem is that the conditions within which the child is developing may change, leading to a slowing down or speeding up of the developmental process. Clearly, children’s development in the early years is fluid and adaptable, leading to accommodation for a wide range of variation within the span of normal development.
Placement of children into an appropriate education programme is one of the main reasons children are assessed and this requires the social and emotional development of the child to be measured. The whole child must be observed, making the observations multi-dimensional, taking into consideration the child’s social, emotional, physical, intellectual and language development
As far back as 1977, school readiness was defined as a broad term, which encompassed three aspects of development, namely: school maturity, social maturity and emotional maturity. A child can be considered as school ready when he or she can meet the formal demands of school, more specifically, when he or she can cope with the school environment physically, perceptually, socially and emotionally as well as academically, without undue stress. Today, psychologists and school teachers are concerned with the general, social and emotional development of children as they enter into the school system.
Readiness for school or learning is influenced by a number of factors, such as, the child’s ability to concentrate and pay attention as well as his or her motivation to learn. The child’s health and nutritional status is also a determining feature. The environment in which the child grows up will give him or her particular advantages or disadvantages when it comes to school learning.
The terms school readiness and school maturity must not be confused either. School maturity is whether or not the child has reached a level of maturity where they are ready for formal teaching of reading, writing and numeracy. This level is usually reached around age 6 and because it relies on biological factors it cannot be hastened. However, having reached this level of maturity is no guarantee that a child will be able to cope with the demands of school and this is where school readiness enters the picture.
School readiness considers the intellectual, social and emotional maturity levels of a child and while maturity cannot be influenced by external factors, school readiness can be encouraged by broadening a child’s experiences and teaching him or her to make full use of his or her senses and abilities. Initially this responsibility belongs to the parents who are the child’s first source of learning but soon enough other people play a role in this – from child minder to nursery school teachers as well as siblings and friends.
A school-readiness assessment is a subset of psycho-educational assessments and are usually recommended for children in the second half of their Grade R year.
Developmental assessments can be administered at any point once a child has started pre-school to measure their progress and readiness to process to the next year.